Saturday, February 18, 2012


Thoroughbred racing may be the ultimate game of chance. Mare owners pay five or six-figure stud fees with no guarantees they will get a runner, much less a winner.

Trainers toil long hours in search of that one special horse, most happy to eke out a living by winning one or two races a week. Jockeys risk their health, and sometimes their lives, bouncing along at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour in quest of short-lived gratification made to last by a photograph.

When it comes to risk-takers, don’t forget the bettors. Racing never could have risen to a level of worldwide popularity without those eager to back up their opinions against the next guy.

Another form of chance-taking swirls around the claiming game, the backbone of racing at mid-level tracks such as Tampa Bay Downs.

Serious observers who had watched 6-year-old gelding Guam Typhoon nearly better the seven-furlong track record in his previous start, a 3 ¾-length victory in a conditional allowance/optional claiming race, knew his connections risked losing him Friday by entering him for a $25,000 claiming price.

Ian Wilkes, the trainer of Guam Typhoon for owner Donna M. Jones, understood the risk. The Kentucky-bred son of Distorted Humor-La Cucina – who finished second in the 2010 Super Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs to Musket Man – is at the top of his game, but Wilkes needed to enter him at the level he thinks he belongs.

“That horse has been in my barn since he was a 2-year-old. I’ve had four good years with him, and he’s made more than $200,000,” Wilkes said. “But (getting horses claimed) is part of the game. If we didn’t want to lose him, we wouldn’t put him in for a tag (claiming price).”

Guam Typhoon showed his hooves to the field again Friday, drawing off to win the six-and-a-half furlong race by two-and-a-half lengths under jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr. in 1:16.23. The time was a mere .14 seconds off the track record.

Guam Typhoon could have been claimed for $32,000 from his previous race. When a horse runs for a lower price the next time, it can be interpreted in a variety of ways. But trainers Jamie Ness and Adolfo Exposito were willing to take their chances.

Both put in claims for Guam Typhoon, and a ‘shake’ (a blind draw of numbered pills from a container) conducted in the office of Tampa Bay Downs Claim Clerk Carol Siciliano awarded the horse to Ness for his owner, Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.

Ness trained third-place finisher Tripp O Steel in Guam Typhoon’s Jan. 18 victory. In Guam Typhoon’s previous start on Jan. 6 at Tampa Bay Downs, the gelding had finished second to the Ness-trained Western Prospector.

Ness trained the third-place finisher in Friday’s race, Repenter.

“I beat him with a nice horse (Western Prospector) two starts back, but (Guam Typhoon) ran right past me the next time and he beat me again today,” Ness said. “At least I don’t have to run against him the next time. For $25,000, I thought he was really worth taking a chance for.”

Wilkes said it was time to bid a fond farewell to a hard-trying competitor who won for the seventh time in 19 starts and expressed no regrets.

“Jamie got a good claim,” he said. “I was kidding him the other day because I’ve been running some horses for a tag and he hadn’t taken any. I was glad to see him step up to the plate.”

As the saying goes, ‘You pays your money, you takes your chances.’ In the seventh race Friday, 6-year-old mare Stark’s a Smarty, the third-place finisher, was claimed from Midwest and Ness by trainer Jane Cibelli for owner Leanne M. Robbins for $16,000.

Ness had claimed Stark’s a Smarty from Cibelli in her previous race Jan. 29 for the same $16,000 price. Now, will Cibelli keep her at that level and risk losing her again, or opt for allowance company where she would be likely to face tougher competition?

At Tampa Bay Downs, the claiming game is a non-stop chess match filled with unexpected twists and turns.

Wilkes, who won two races on Thursday, has won with his last three starters at Tampa Bay Downs.

Trainer Tom Proctor and jockey Mark Guidry combined for two victories with first-time starters Friday, with Timothy Turney’s 3-year-old colt Temeraine in the sixth race and Steven R. Schwartz and Byron L. Walker’s 3-year-old filly Never Tell Lynda in the 10th. Jockey Irwin Rosendo also rode two winners – Prized Best in the second Celtic City in the eighth.

Saturday’s feature race is the $75,000, five-furlong Turf Dash, the eighth race on an 11-race card that begins at 12:25 p.m. Jockey Angel Serpa, the special guest for the Morning Glory Club at 10 a.m., rides Private Jet for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

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